Can Arizona State hang with Stanford in a Pac-12 clash? Will quarterback Chuckie Keeton and Utah State put a scare into USC? Will Florida bounce back from its loss to Miami at home against Tennessee?
My picks for all of this week’s top games are below.
Boise State (2-1) at Fresno State (2-0)
9 p.m. (ESPN)
The great Kellen Moore-era Broncos teams never got due credit for their suffocating defenses, particularly on the line. Through three games, this year’s Boise team ranks 66th nationally in total defense (5.37 yards per play) and has just three sacks. That doesn’t bode well for slowing Bulldogs quarterback Derek Carr (71.2 completion percentage, eight touchdowns, one interception) on his home field.
Fresno State 35, Boise State 24
North Carolina (1-1) at Georgia Tech (2-0)
Don’t look now, but the Jackets can pass, too. Thanks to talented quarterback Vad Lee, Georgia Tech currently ranks in the top five nationally in both rushing offense (6.5 yards per attempt) and pass efficiency (219.17). Lee threw for four touchdowns last week against Duke. Tar Heels quarterback Bryn Renner will present problems, but the Jackets will assert themselves as ACC Coastal contenders.
Georgia Tech 34, North Carolina 27
Tennessee (2-1) at No. 19 Florida (1-1)
3:30 p.m. (CBS)
It seems downright cruel that the Vols have to go from playing at raucous Autzen Stadium (where they lost 59-14) to the Swamp the next week. Florida’s offense isn’t nearly as potent as Oregon’s, but its defense can be suffocating. Expect the Vols’ D to put up a fight, but the Gators’ smashmouth offensive approach will eventually wear it down en route to an eighth straight win in this rivalry.
Florida 26, Tennessee 12
Michigan State (3-0) at No. 22 Notre Dame (2-1)
3:30 p.m. (NBC)
The Spartans finally have an undisputed starting quarterback in sophomore Connor Cook. Notre Dame’s pass defense has been shaky, but it’s still a big step up from what Cook has seen so far, and the Irish’s run defense will make Michigan State one-dimensional. While quarterback Tommy Rees has been solid, expect coach Brian Kelly to go conservative knowing the Spartans are limited.
Notre Dame 19, Michigan State 13
Arkansas (3-0) at Rutgers (2-1)
3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Arkansas has wasted no time adopting coach Bret Bielema’s smashmouth style, as freshman Alex Collins (139.3 yards per game) and sophomore Jonathan Williams (131) have rushed for 100 yards in all three games. But the Razorbacks opened against Louisiana-Lafayette, Samford and Southern Miss. Now, they’ll face the nation’s fifth-ranked rushing defense on the road. Wake-up call.
Rutgers 33, Arkansas 24
Maryland (3-0) vs. West Virginia (2-1) in Baltimore
3:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
It’s a shame Stefon Diggs toils in obscurity for the Terps. The nation’s sixth-leading receiver (129 yards per game) lives up to the hype, and he’s benefitted from the return of dual-threat quarterback C.J. Brown (277 passing yards, 122 rushing yards last week against UConn). It’s too soon to say where Maryland stacks up in the ACC, but the Terps know their identity. The Mountaineers are still figuring things out.
Maryland 31, West Virginia 20
No. 23 Arizona State (2-0) at No. 5 Stanford (2-0)
7 p.m. (FOX)
It’s the weekend’s only game between teams ranked in the AP Poll and the first big game for the Cardinal in 2013. Quarterback Taylor Kelly (11th nationally in pass efficiency) and backs Marion Grice and Deantre Lewis lead an up-tempo Arizona State attack that gave Wisconsin fits, but Stanford coordinator Derek Mason’s 3-4 defense is well suited to stop it. Meanwhile, Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan will show off his improved passing skills.
Stanford 35, Arizona State 20
Auburn (3-0) at No. 6 LSU (3-0)
7:45 p.m. (ESPN)
Not surprisingly, Auburn’s offense has improved under new coach Gus Malzahn, and quarterback Nick Marshall’s game-winning drive against Mississippi State last week was a significant moment. But top to bottom, Auburn’s talent level is not in the same sphere as LSU’s yet. LSU’s Zach Mettenberger is a legit passing threat now. He and wideout Odell Beckham Jr. should carve up Auburn’s 73rd-ranked defense.
LSU 38, Auburn 14
Kansas State (2-1) at Texas (1-2)
8 p.m. (ABC)
A Texas team that desperately needs to stop the bleeding may catch a break in this one. The ‘Horns’ biggest issue is they can’t stop the run. Kansas State has uncharacteristically struggled to run the ball, averaging just 4.9 yards per attempt against North Dakota State, Louisiana-Lafayette and UMass. At the risk of looking foolish by ignoring Mack Brown’s five-game losing streak to the Wildcats, I’m taking Texas.
Texas 26, Kansas State 23
Utah (2-1) at BYU (1-1)
10:15 p.m. (ESPN2)
The Holy War is always good for a crazy ending, like last year’s multiple premature field-stormings by Utes fans in a 24-21 Utah win. For the first time in years, both teams have quarterbacks to be excited about in BYU’s Taysom Hill (259 rushing yards against Texas) and Utah’s Travis Wilson (847 passing yards, 247 rushing yards). Still, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and the Cougars have the better defense.
BYU 28, Utah 27
Utah State (2-1) at USC (2-1)
3:30 p.m. (ABC)
The Trojans’ defense has been dominant so far under new coordinator Clancy Pendergast, allowing just 27 points in three games. But they haven’t yet faced dynamic Aggies quarterback Chuckie Keeton (370 yards per game), the Johnny Football of the Mountain West. He’ll break off enough big plays to keep the game close while a veteran Aggies defense will force a couple of game-changing turnovers.
Utah State 27, USC 24
Last week: 9-1, Season: 25-8